This was my first proper holiday for a while, one that wasn’t to a wedding or to see family. It was just, an adventure!
I went with my good mate Steve, we’ve been abroad in America before, so he’s a familiar travel companion. We tried to go with budget, by we, I meant me, Air Transat and AirBnB, the cost and accommodation was £342 and £123 each, not bad for four nights and five days. We had an extra day as the flight back was in the evening. Only minor glitch was, it had to be Gatwick, I had to be in London, didn’t mind – I like my trips down the big smog!
I wasn’t that prepared for the trip to be honest, not in the same way I used to, I didn’t buy a map or look up places – possibly because I knew Wi-Fi was available at where we were going and we can plan there. BUT, I did buy a Samsung tablet, figured I might need it on the plane and been wanting one for ages anyway – that was £309, jeez, my pockets were so much lighter this month.
I stayed overnight at Steve’s and we tackled the Tuesday morning rush hour to get to Gatwick, it took over 40mins and through maybe half of London’s population to get there. It was exciting for me, maybe less for him. The check-in was effortless and we timed it to perfection, it was an easy ten minutes in the Departure lounge before boarding. The six and half hour flight was ok, I napped a little and the tablet was an enormously useful tool, why did I never buy one?!
Steve completely opened my eyes to technology during our holiday, I’ve always been told about certain apps but remain unconvinced, it was only when we were using them – when I experienced the sheer practicality of it. I was bowled over by Uber, cheap and so readily available. Foursquare took us to the best places within the vicinity. Google map was instant guidance. The only downside? Cost of data roaming, mine would have been £5 a day and I used it once to find the key to get into our AirBnb apartment. I don’t think we could have had the quality time without the technology. Equally I did feel we were overly relying on them, there’s a happy balance somewhere – it would have been nice to walk into a restaurant instead of crowd-sourcing every destination. It’s a personal preference, I do like a bit of mystery and adventure. Anyway, it was enlightening travelling with someone who knew so much about smart technology – I even bought a Chromecast days after I got back home!
It’s a beautiful city, a mix of old and new. Downtown was built in grids very much like New York but a few blocks away we had the old pier with its rich history of European influence. The architecture was far more interesting along the small winding roads, it felt like France rather than North America. The primary language is French but everyone spoke English of varying degree, we got around fine. The people were SO friendly – we’ve not encountered one rude person servicing us. The city was so tidy as well, everywhere we went there was zero littering, I mean it! No crisp packets, no cups/bottles or smashed glass, no rubbish, the typical stuff you’d find in big cities. I think they must have people working overnight to clean the city because it was immaculate. I was pleasantly surprised.
The weather was in our favour, it only rained on Saturday and that was the last day, for the whole week it was T-shirt weather, we scorched at 24 degrees high. The city was just beautiful glimmering under the sun. We were fortunate to stay between two Metro stops, a day travel card was only $10 and we were on the hub that splits the Orange and Green line, absolutely perfect for getting about. The apartment was clean and had an amazing kitchen and the best power shower I ever had, the water pressure was glorious! That kind of shower is high on my wish list! Our host Laurence was really good and responded quickly to my emails, everything went smoothly!
We arrived in the late afternoon and only settled into the apartment at around 5ish, went for a nice long walk towards the University, then the huge park behind us, we also got some essentials to stock the kitchen. Being a little tired we had a couple of beer and burrito in the evening, didn’t stay out that late. Oh, and we played Mario Kart in Nacho Libre, the burrito place, it was a nice evening to ease us in!
Second day we explored old town, learning about the history of Montreal and seeing the magnificent Notre Dame, interspersed with great food and a LOT of walking and taking pictures along the water. Steve even ran up 192 steps in the clock tower, I tried to keep up, I wasn’t as fit as him! We enjoyed a fantastic sushi at Mikado in the evening and went for a few drinks, it was school night so the places weren’t that busy, I actually preferred it that way! We had a decent amount to drink, not enough for a hangover though.
The following day we headed up Mount Royal (or Royahl as it’s pronounced in French), it was a Metro and bus ride away – the observation point was beautiful, I really enjoyed the sight of the city. Was a little surprised at the big hill, it was IN the centre of Montreal! From downtown we could see the slow ascent three of blocks away. I love the ‘mountain’ on one side and the pier on the other. For lunch I tried my first poutine (it was LUSH!), and we had a cultured browse in the massive Museum of Fine Art. We ran out of time as they were closing, took a gander in a Uni campus… it felt exactly like the movies! Really cool North American campus. It was on the way back to the apartment for our pit stop – it was like a thing we had to do, we needed an hour or two to recharge between 5pm and 7pm! We had Chinese for tea, then Jazz at Upstairs Jazz Club, we managed to catch somebody called Roxanne Potvin, I really liked her stuff. Up my street! We stayed there long enough to watch two sets. I bought her CD and we headed back for the night – a gentle midweek for us.
On Friday we searched for the elusive entrances into underground city, I must say it’s impressive. 32km of tunnel network catering for cold winters, I just love the idea. I think it’s romantic! Cozy underground living when it’s freezing outside! Wish we have that in Manchester! Afterwards we headed for the Olympic Park, got the package that included the Planetorium, Biodome and a ride up the weird elevator to the top observation deck. It was good, we watched two shows on space, saw a few animal inside the biodome (although I wish they didn’t keep Penguins and Puffins – the space was too small for them). We went up the observation deck for pictures, good view of Montreal from another side. We got back down and stumbled on a food festival, great timing! Had a good browse but didn’t eat anything. We headed back and went out for our final night in downtown, for the best pizza in town, then beer. It was far busier with the weekend ahead and I actually preferred Tuesday, we had a hard time picking somewhere we liked, the places we went to weren’t bad but we were probably early. We couldn’t find the party places, some had queues we weren’t willing to do – mind you, I’m too old for that anyway! Clubbing heh, I was happy with simple bars.
Saturday! The holiday was over, I did some preliminary packing and found out that not only was it raining but the temperature dropped quite dramatically. Just like home, we got a bit wet, typical! It was souvenir hunt morning down at the pier, followed by lunch nearby. Then a long hike in underground city, we went quite far. We were surprised by a text from Laurence, turned out I misunderstood her, she needed to clean the place and we weren’t fully packed. Ah, we should have been out at noon but she let us stay because of our flight. We rushed back to quickly pack, had a drink and decided on killing a couple of hours at the cinema. The experience was just like back home, except the ads were SHORTER! We watched War Dogs, more enjoyable than I thought! Had dinner at Reuben’s, then hijacked GAP’s Wi-Fi and ubered it to the airport.
It was fine. We had a bit more time to loiter at the Departure lounge. The flight itself was at 10:30pm and I tried to sleep. Failed quite miserably with a blocked nose and uncomfortable seating. We arrived at 10am in London, I was in a daze. We made it back to Steve’s and I set off on my own for lunch and a short browse in Forbidden Planet. It was only a short stop, had to go back to get my luggage for the 3pm train back to Manchester. I got in after 5pm reeling from the lack of sleep. It was a brief holiday but felt like ages. It was good, I enjoyed the company and the city.
Brief but memorable
I loved the vibe of Montreal, even the rush hours were laid back, people just chilled… everyone seems so relaxed and easy going and grounded, I kept forgetting we were in a big city. True, I may have had a rose tinted view being there as a tourist, but from what I’ve seen, I love the Canadians even more, or in this case the people of Quebec. The French cross Canadian attitude was warm and welcoming. I met our host Laurence briefly and she was pretty cool, Canada will be on top of my list of countries to revisit. Italy is still top though!
It’s been a fantastic break, we saw so much, I particularly enjoyed the part where I didn’t have to work! If you haven’t been there yet, I do highly recommend it, visit for the history, for the people, for the vibe, for the food, you’ll have a great time because it’s a great city.